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Ryan Johnson, Published December 15 2013

Making a Scene: Fike brings musical chops to local stage productions

MOORHEAD – Local musical theater fans have almost certainly heard the results of Jo Marie Fike’s work, even if they didn’t realize it.

The Moorhead native who earned a music education degree from Concordia College has been a workhorse here since 1991, when she took a part-time job as an accompanist for West Fargo High School’s theater department.

She’s since served as music director for more than 50 shows with Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre and Musical Theatre Fargo-Moorhead, including FMCT’s current production of “The Wizard of Oz” that wraps up this week with performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Fike also can be seen as an accompanist for Act Up Theatre and Moorhead High School Theater, and she is the organist at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Moorhead.

“Pretty much if anybody needs anything music, I jump in,” she said.

On top of a busy arts schedule, she works full-time as a teacher at Little Lights Preschool in Moorhead.

How did you get your start with music?

My mother always wanted to take piano lessons, and she never had the opportunity, so she decided that was something she was going to give her children.

When I went to kindergarten, I could read, write, do my alphabet and all of that, so my teacher felt I needed something supplementary to that and recommended to my parents that I start piano lessons.

A piano was purchased, and I started taking lessons at the age of 5. I just fell in love with the instrument.

Piano is my main instrument, and I also play viola. I studied organ and percussion when I was a student at Concordia.

I do some singing. That’s part of being a music director because we do vocal coaching, so I’m responsible for teaching all of the vocals and maintaining all the vocals in the show.

You have an important but largely behind-the-scenes job. Are you happy to be helping the performers with their roles?

Very much so. The purpose of the pit is to support the actors on stage, so we do the best that we can to provide a strong musical accompaniment so that they will be able to excel at what they love.

Do you want a turn in the limelight?

No! The further back in the darkness, the better.

How much work do you put into these local productions?

It begins pre-audition. I receive a copy of the musical score, and I go through and look at vocal ranges and vocal divisions, particularly if there’s parts involved, so I’m looking at how many sopranos, altos, tenors and basses, and what I’ll be looking for in auditions.

Then I’m responsible for teaching all of the music and maintaining all of the vocal music during the run of the show – that we’re still doing cutoffs correctly, breathing is correct, and I’m watching for any type of vocal health issues.

I’m also in charge of assembling the pit orchestra, hiring those musicians, rehearsing the musicians and conducting the pit nightly.

What’s your favorite part of being a music director?

Just working with the talent in the Fargo-Moorhead community. The talent here never ceases to amaze me. We have such a committed group of artists that are willing to try anything and are just excited about being part of the arts in this community.

Is it daunting to take on a show like “The Wizard of Oz,” considering its songs are such an important part of American popular culture?

It is. But I wanted to encourage the artists who are portraying Dorothy and the Lion and the Tin Man to create their own take of the songs.

Nobody can sing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” like Judy Garland. That’s just a fact. But we can make certain aspects sparkle and shine like Judy Garland did without replicating exactly what she did.

We want the artists to have their freedom within those songs, too, to create new memories for the audience.

It’s been very exciting because there’s a new piece, or it was new to several of our actors. In Act 2, there’s a piece called “The Jitterbug,” and it was originally cut from the movie. It was a brand new piece that a lot of performers were not aware of, so that was fun to breathe life into a song that no one was familiar with, even with so many people being familiar with the movie.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587